They knew nightfall would bring trouble and it was already starting to get dark - but inside the sheriff's office there was no plan on what to do or even agreement on who was in charge. The telephones kept ringing. A crowd was forming in the street outside that had the makings of a lynch mob.

This is the fifth chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID," and describes events which happened later in the day of December 5. Just an hour earlier Sonoma County Sheriff James A. Petray and two San Francisco detectives had been gunned down as they were arresting a gangster in Santa Rosa.

Petray was highly popular, demonstrated both by how word of his murder spread with racing speed and the degree of anger it stirred. Normally some sort of public event would be promptly arranged - a ceremony on the steps of the courthouse perhaps, a church service, or better yet, a memorial gathering in his hometown of Healdsburg, far from the jail where his killer was in custody.

But if there was any hope of defusing the situation any such plan would have needed to made and announced immediately. Further complicating matters was that it was a Sunday afternoon; city and county authorities who could make decisions weren't in their offices or were even reachable - the District Attorney was enjoying a drive in the country.

Nor did it help when Coroner Phillips showed up at the jail to announce he was assuming temporary charge of the sheriff’s office, based on his other official title being the Public Administrator for the county. As he was a physician with no experience at all in law enforcement it was an audacious claim, particularly as he had to push his way through an angry crowd to reach the door. What progress had been made on mobilizing officers came to a halt as they waited for Superior Judge Seawell to come down and make a ruling. It was now past sunset.

The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at

- Jeff Elliott


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